An aerial view shows restoration work under way this summer at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. OSV News photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

Notre Dame rebuild a ‘sign of hope for everyone,’ rector says

By  Caroline De Sury, OSV News
  • October 12, 2023

By the end of the year, Notre Dame Cathedral’s silhouette will be restored: Its entire 100-metre high spire will once again crown the transept crossing, hidden beneath scaffolding.

The biggest reconstruction in France’s modern history is “a sign of hope for everyone,” said the rector-archpriest of Notre Dame Cathedral, Fr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas.

A Sept. 13 statement by the public institution Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris (Rebuilding of Notre Dame), which is in charge of restoration work on the cathedral, mentioned “spectacular results” and that progress is on schedule for the cathedral’s reopening Dec. 8, 2024, as initially announced.

The spire collapsed dramatically during the fire that devastated France and the world April 15, 2019, destroying part of the nave vaults and the transept crossing. Once rebuilt, the transept crossing vaults will be reassembled, like the other vaults already rebuilt or consolidated.

The spire will be gradually unveiled over the first half of 2024, when it is covered with its roof to protect the wooden framework.

Philippe Jost is the new president of the public institution in charge of the site, since the unexpected death of Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin Aug. 18, who died while hiking in the mountains. Jost hopes the spire will be visible for the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games July 26, 2024, on the waters of the Seine River, next to the Île de la Cité, or City Island, where the cathedral stands.

“We are really determined to keep up Gen. Georgelin’s efforts,” he said on broadcast Franceinfo Sept. 14. “We owe it to many people, but we also owe it to him,” he said remembering a man seen as a dedicated public officer and devout Catholic who was on a mission to restore France’s biggest Church treasure.

“I have already been seized with emotion myself,” Ribadeau Dumas told OSV News. “On Aug. 10, I had just returned to Paris after a month’s absence, and I saw the base of the spire, emerging from the roof,” he said, clearly excited about seeing the spire being resurrected.

This emotion is shared by the many tourists who approach the Notre Dame construction site on a daily basis. They gaze at the roof of the cathedral and read the large panels covering the site’s walls, illustrated with photos explaining the different stages of the construction. Some of them try to catch a glimpse below, when a gate opens to let a truck through.

On Sept. 16 and 17, over 30,000 visitors met with some of the craftsmen currently working on site, during the European Heritage Days event, in the “Restoration Village” set up in front of the cathedral.

Inside Notre Dame, cleaning of the walls, painted decorations and vaults, on a total surface area of 452,000 square feet, is nearing completion, and scaffolding is being removed.

“No living person has yet seen the cathedral as it will appear to the public and the faithful on Dec. 8, 2024,” Ribadeau-Dumas assured OSV News. “The interior has taken on a very light blond colour, which gives the impression of greater volume. Previously, it looked narrower, as its side chapels were dark and weathered. Today, the breadth is impressive.”

Meanwhile, several artists are working on the cathedral’s new liturgical furnishings. They were selected by Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Paris, assisted by an artistic committee of 18 people from a variety of backgrounds, some from the French Ministry of Culture, others from the Archdiocese of Paris.

Guillaume Bardet, a 52-year-old designer, was assigned to work on five bronze pieces of liturgical furniture: altar, ambo, cathedra, tabernacle and baptistery. The specification for this furniture was “noble simplicity” — to be sober in the heart of the Gothic cathedral and stand the test of time without going out of fashion.

Industrial designer Ionna Vautrin is working on 1,500 chairs with low and open backs to let in the light, and work is underway for the future installation of lighting and video equipment for Mass TV broadcasts.

Sylvain Dubuisson, an architect-designer, has been commissioned to create the new reliquary of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, believed to be worn by Jesus during His passion. The relic was given to Louis IX, the king of France in the 13th century, by Baldwin II, the emperor of Constantinople.

“It will be much larger than the one before, and will play a central role in the new educational itinerary for visitors, that will take them from chapel to chapel, to introduce them to a knowledge of Christ,” said Ribadeau Dumas.

“I prefer to speak of visitors rather than tourists,” he insisted. “Everyone who enters the cathedral is called to a true visit, that is, an encounter with beauty … and with God.”

In 2018, before the fire, there were close to 12 million visitors a year to Notre Dame. It is estimated that there will be 14 million to 15 million a year once the cathedral reopens.

Until now, about 340,000 donors from 150 countries raised almost $900 million (U.S.) in donations. Among them are thousands of Canadians and Americans, especially through the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris foundation.

“We will have a completely renewed cathedral thanks to the generosity of the whole world,” said Ribadeau Dumas.

A 37-year-old rope access technician, specializing in working at heights, told the rector of the cathedral that this work would be the most meaningful of his lifetime.

“I will never again find the quality of work and sense of fraternity and collective responsibility that I experienced here,” he said.

“France recognizes itself in this cathedral,” said Ribadeau Dumas. “The craftsmen are of a very high standard and aware that they are taking part in exceptional work. This reconstruction represents a sign of hope for everyone, not just for the Catholic Church.”

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